Skip to main content

Explaining Scrum to my Parents

JP recently wrote an article about how he would explain Scrum to his parents. Here's how I would explain it to mine.

Last week, my wife and I took our young children to learn to ski. On the last day, they learned to ride the chair-lift and went down the real mountain (as opposed to the bunny slope) for the first time. They also got to show off their newly learned skills at a "slalom race" where everyone got a medal. Afterward we wanted to do some "real skiing" with the kids, but wary of the potential mood swings of exhausted children (not to mention exhausted parents), we wanted to go down the whole mountain once with the kids then back up the lift, so we could join the path which would let us ski directly to the car. Down to the lift. No problem. Up the lift. No problem. Down to the lift again, no problem. Get in line to go back up.

Problem. As we approached the lift, it stopped. And it didn't restart. After a few minutes, they announced it would be down for a while. At which time, one of my kids announced 'Dad, I have to go to the bathroom!" Bigger Problem. The nearest bathrooms are 1) further down hill (away from the car), or 2) up at the car, or 3) at the top the chair lift.

Do we wait for the chair lift to be fixed? Do we go further down hill (if we do that, we have a more difficult hike back to the car, or we have to go up the T-Lift, which the kids have never done before - this is risky - what if the kids can't handle the lift?. Or do we set out for the car? This could be a long walk with many tears. And I would probably get to carry the kids' skis. All the options looked bad, and we were unable to decide what to do.

"Dad, I have to go the bathroom, NOW!". Yellow snow is frowned upon and wet pants are definitely a Bad Thing in winter. So we skied down to most easily accessible bathroom.

While waiting, my wife and I discussed the situation. We looked up the hill back to the village and were definitely not looking forward to walking up it. The bathroom was next to the T-Lift, so on my wife's suggestion, I asked the lift attendant if he thought kids at their stage of training could handle the lift. "No problem" he replied. By the time we were ready to go up the lift, the attendant told us "BTW - the chairlift is back in service." So we went up the hill. The children, although a bit apprehensive, went up the lift on the first try. We skied back down to the chair lift, took it back up the mountain, and were able to ski directly to the car.

What does this have to do with Scrum? Quite a bit actually. Scrum teaches us to:
  • Deliver value to the customer quickly and incrementally. In this case, the first increment of value was a bathroom.
  • Break the problem down in to smaller pieces. The whole was unsolvable. We could however get to a bathroom..
  • Defer decisions to gather information. Knowing that the kids should be able to handle the T-Lift made it possible to consider that alternative much more attractive.
  • Work as a team - everyone has good ideas.
  • Have faith in the team. They are capable of much more than you think.


Anonymous said…
Hi Peter,

that's really a great article. Not only that it explains Scrum for Newbies but also shows how project management affects everybody's life.

Your post inspired me to write a blog article, I allowed myself to quote your story in it:

Peter said…

Some day I'll write a story about how my kids use task boards to focus on the job of getting ready for school each day...

Anonymous said…
I'm looking forward to that one!

I guess you handed down a lot of project management genes... ;-)
Peter said…
Actually, the task board helped them internalize what they have to do to get ready -- it was the same thing everyday. After a couple weeks, they know the routine so well, that didn't want/need to use the board any more.

Unfortunately, that didn't solve the problem that we still had to pry them out of bed every day and push them out the door (figuratively speaking of course).

What they really needed was to go to bed an hour earlier. Which solved the problem entirely and mornings are now a pleasure...
Anonymous said…
Agile techniques can be easly used with kids. They works as effective.
We use hourglasses to help our kids with timeboxing

Popular posts from this blog

Sample Definition of Done

Why does Scrum have a Definition of Done? Simple, everyone involved in the project needs to know and understand what Done means. Furthermore, Done should be really done, as in, 'there is nothing stopping us from earning value with this function, except maybe the go-ahead from the Product Owner. Consider the alternative:
Project Manager: Is this function done?
Developer: Yes
Project Manager: So we can ship it?
Developer: Well, No. It needs to be tested, and I need to write some documentation, but the code works, really. I tested it... (pause) ...on my machine. What's wrong with this exchange? To the developer and to the project manager, "done" means something rather different. To the developer in this case, done means: "I don't have to work on this piece of code any more (unless the tester tells me something is wrong)." The project leader is looking for a statement that the code is ready to ship.

At its most basic level, a definition of Done creates a sh…

Explaining Story Points to Management

During the February Scrum Breakfast in Zurich, the question arised, "How do I explain Story Points to Management?" A good question, and in all honesty, developers can be an even more critical audience than managers.

Traditional estimates attempt to answer the question, "how long will it take to develop X?" I could ask you a similar question, "How long does it take to get the nearest train station?

The answer, measured in time, depends on two things, the distance and the speed. Depending on whether I plan to go by car, by foot, by bicycle or (my personal favorite for short distances) trottinette, the answer can vary dramatically. So it is with software development. The productivity of a developer can vary dramatically, both as a function of innate ability and whether the task at hand plays to his strong points, so the time to produce a piece of software can vary dramatically. But the complexity of the problem doesn't depend on the person solving it, just …

Money for Nothing, Changes for Free

“Money for Nothing, Changes for Free” encourages both customers and suppliers to focus on value.

A key advantage of Scrum projects is that at least once per sprint you have something that could be shipped and no work in progress. You can change direction every sprint, and you can reevaluate whether the project is a good investment or if your money could be better spent elsewhere. Abrupt cancellation is risky for the supplier.

While the concept of an early-exit penalty is not new, Jeff Sutherland gave it a unique allure with his allusion to the Dire Straits hit.
Desired Benefit Incentivize both customers and suppliers to focus on functionality that provides genuine value.
Structure This works with Agile software projects because there is little or no work in progress. After each Sprint, functionality is either complete or not started. Work is basically on a Time and Materials basis with a cost target, often with the intention that the project should not use up the entire project budge…